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The Stedelijk Museum Schiedam has kindly requested the present lot on loan for their exhibition '60 jaar CoBrA: de kleur van vrijheid' from 13 September until 30 November 2008.
The Cobra movement was officially established in 1948 in Paris by a group of enthousiastic young artists and writers. The name Cobra is an acronym for Copenhagen, Brussels and Amsterdam, thus highlighting the countries from which a large proportion of the artists originated. The protagonists of the movement included Asger Jorn, Carl-Henning Pedersen and Egill Jacobsen from Denmark, Pierre Alechinsky and Christian Dotremont from Belgium, and Karel Appel, Corneille and Constant from Holland.
Many of their artistic ideas had their roots in Surrealism and painters like Miro, Picasso and Dubuffet had great influence on them.
Besides their artistic affinities, these artists had in common romantic political ideas which often had their roots in Marxism. They envisioned a new society in which everyone would have the opportunity to express themselves freely and creatively, a society of which they felt themselves to be pioneers, and which they were convinced was within reach. The need to create a new art movement was partly motivated by their profound disappointment and revulsion associated with the events of the Second World War.
Thus the Cobra artists found inspiration in the art of children, of mentally ill, and in primitive, unspoiled cultures. They sought the primal images of our fantasy, hidden in the collective human subconscious. These ideas derived from theories of the psychologist J.G. Jung, among others, who was read and admired by many of their generation.
The artists organised joint exhibitions, wrote theoretical manifestos which were published in the Cobra magazine, and organised symposia. Their ideas on art and society were marked by a preoccupation with the 'experiment' in which spontaneous creativity played the leading role. With great eloquence they used colour and form to express their quest for freedom.
In spite of the fact that the Cobra artists reacted against every form of formalisation, of 'style forming', out of their association an unmistakable 'Cobra language' established which also continued after 1951.
Each of the three participating countries made its own contribution to this style. The Danes, who even prior to the war had been fascinated by their own folklore, offered folk-art. The Dutch were almost all heavily influenced by children's drawings, whilst the Belgians put emphasis on surrealism and particularly on automatic writing.
From this combination there arose a language of images, a style with a markedly renewing character which was a Northern answer to the then fashionable and often decorative style of the Ecole de Paris.
The most striking aspect of the Cobra vocabulary is perhaps the imaginary creatures that wander in the night staring at us with penetrating eyes. They are the creatures - half-human, half-animal, half-plant - that loom out of our subconscious, masks, trolls, dwarves, fairy-tale horses, which constantly reoccur.
Many artists also worked with spontaneous, improvisatory and sometimes automatic techniques. In this sense they can be compared with American abstract expressionists. The Cobra work is characterised by vivid, often unmixed colours such as bright blues, aggressive reds, penetrating yellows, grass greens etc.
The Cobra movement ended officially in 1951. The language of images developed in the short period of 1948-1951 has had, however, a lasting effect on the later work of the majority of the artists involved and indeed on European post-war art in general.